The Book of Eli is a frustrating film. It’s so darn pretty, and it has a great actor at its core, but it just doesn’t add up to much other than silliness by the time end credits roll.
The movie goes from being an interesting and stylish post-apocalyptic samurai movie to one of the stranger gospel films ever made. The Hughes brothers—Albert and Allen—who’ve been out of action since their very good From Hell nine years ago, have made a farfetched movie about the power of religion.
Denzel Washington stars as Eli, a mysterious walker of the Earth. He’s roaming around with his iPod after a nuclear apocalypse has turned the landscape to dust. He’s mighty handy with a sword, and when marauding gangs screw with him, it results in some damned fine street fighting. There’s a silhouetted sequence where Eli faces off against a gigantic, chainsaw-wielding bastard that is a bloody thing of beauty.
When the swords are flying and the blood is spurting, this is a pretty good movie, if you go for that sort of thing. The fights are well choreographed, and the blood effects are substantial without getting too gross.
Where the film missteps is with a Bible that Eli keeps in his backpack. He reads it every day to the point where he’s got the thing memorized. He’s heading West because he hears there are people out there that will appreciate his book. Yes, Eli is a post-apocalyptic prophet who can kick some major ass for Jesus.
Gary Oldman plays Carnegie, the film’s bad guy (surprise!). He’s a sort of dictator in a human survivor city and sends gangs out to find “the book.” Turns out that most scripture and religious tomes were burned purposefully after the war, and Carnegie seems to think that having a Bible will give him the mighty power to build more cities and rule more lives. He’s sort of like Pat Roberston in a trench coat, looking to start his own 700 Club after the nukes have dropped.
While we’re on the subject, would somebody please plaster Pat Robertson with tomatoes and pie in public, please? I would do it, but I never see the guy. Let’s join hands as a nation and stop giving that bombastic moron a forum for his nonsense. OK, back to the movie.
Very little is revealed about Eli as the movie progresses. In fact, we aren’t even told his name until late into the film. The movie has a big twist that made me say, “Yeah, right!” not aloud, but in my internal head speakers. Thinking back on the movie, there are some hints dropped as to the big reveal, but it’s still quite preposterous.
Mila Kunis shows up as Solara, the daughter of a character played by Flashdance’s still-hot Jennifer Beals. Solara is a seedy bar waitress whose hair is way too nice for a time when bathing just can’t be an option due to lack of water and Bath & Body Works shops.
The film looks and plays a little like The Road, the recent Cormac McCarthy adaptation that stars Viggo Mortensen as a man determined to protect his son at all costs. The landscape looks the same, the survivors are eating each other, and people don’t shower. Substitute a book for a kid, throw in some bitchin’ sword fighting, and the movies wind up being quite alike.
For those of you who don’t put a lot of weight on religion, this film will come off as quite silly in the end. For those of you who think the Bible actually wields fierce power, you might find this to be quite cool. I’m thinking this will make the year-end best-of lists for Kirk Cameron and Pat Robertson. God, I hate those assholes.